Time was you missed the support band because you were far too cool to show up early. If you’re part of Richard Hawley’s audience, chances are it’s down to more prosaic reasons. Still, once we did make it to catch the last few songs of the Smoke Fairies’ set, it turned out that plenty had got there, and stayed, to hear their haunting old-country Americana. And no wonder - despite the gentle acoustic sounds of guitar and strings, they sound magnificent in the theatre - swelling sound right up to where we are the gods. Hawley himself has championed them for a while - and he knows good song writing when he hears it.
Their slightly sombre mood suits as an a Hawley set that is largely drawn from the new Truelove’s Gutter album - a fine collection of songs that sees him in the 60s rather than the 50s, his rock ‘n roll soul plays second fiddle to more measured Scott Walkeresque compositions. And with the band tonight he proves that he deserves such high comparision. As they come on stage to the stunning intro to As the Dawn Breaks, they resemble nothing so much as that other supreme much-more-than-backing band, label mates the Bad Seeds. Theirs is a similar mix of gentle precision and tightly-controlled chaos of noise - most notably effectively on the middle section of Run to Me (otherwise rendered in more delicate style than normal), Soldier On and a fantastic climax of the Ocean - the Coles Corner song that is the touchstone for the new album. Hawley himself reminds us he's not just got a wonderful voice, but he's at heart a damn good guitarist - with an endearing habit of stepping back from the microphone when not singing to become just another one of the band.
Elsewhere it’s a massively confident set, Hawley fully reconciled with playing the big venues of his home town now, necessarily less cinematic than the record, but full of fabulous touches like a lovingly played musical saw. Despite the beauty of the music, Hawley can't resist his usual club gags (egged on/heckled by the family), but nothing breaks the overall atmosphere, the audience held spellbound and tangibly proud of the local lad made good. There have been few enough great classic songwriters to emerge in recent years. Hawley is rapidly building a body of work to match his reputation as a musician , which sees him right up there.